Tucking into pasta made from scratch in a rich ragu it isn’t hard to conjure up why I find plant based eating a joy. Through plant-based eating I’ve been led to understand food, appreciate seasonality (though if we could not be in leek season any more that would be wonderful), and actually learn how to cook properly. Much like the banana bread and sourdough moments of 2020 as people returned to their kitchens, a plant based diet kindled my love of cooking.
Sadly, this love of cooking and what sometimes feels like a sixth sense of flavour understanding did not come immediately. Learning how to cook vegan took time, and I think it is what often puts people off. I am not ashamed to admit that when I first became a vegan my diet was extremely questionable and almost entirely consisted of beans and lettuce. This was definitely a low point. The problem was, I was so overwhelmed by the fear that I was accidentally eating something that wasn’t vegan, or being judged if I ate an egg or caved into a cheese craving, that I didn’t take the time to figure out how to actually make things taste good. The answer – herbs and spices, umami flavours, and a sharp knife so I didn’t keep nearly chopping my fingers off battling butternut squash. Game changers, all of them.
Now, when I sit and think about a particularly delicious croissant I once ate, or a bolognese sauce that I ate when working in Italy it becomes a challenge in my mind to try and figure out how I can replicate that or create a dish that stands in its own rights to serve the same flavour profile. With this have come some spectacular failures over the years including a dish that smelled so bad the neighbours asked whether someone had split a full bin bag outside the flat. But, I’ve also made brioche, croissants, and ragus, not to mention curries, that rival the originals.
That brings me to the real joy I’ve found with veganism – appreciating cooking as an activity, a time spent with others, and a time to reflect. Whether I’m cooking a rice noodle dish that takes 15 minutes (yes, it doesn’t have to be time consuming), or hand shaping pasta for an afternoon with friends around a kitchen table ignoring the work we should be doing, it’s forced me to take a breather, to check in with myself, and with others, and appreciate the peace and clarity that comes with it. Or, the blind rage when you get something wrong again and you become the living breathing version of Gordon Ramsay calling someone an idiot sandwich. Mainly the former though, so let’s focus on that.
That brings me to some of the downsides. The big one being cheese. I am a self confessed cheese addict. I’ll be honest, most vegan cheese tastes how feet smell. But, there are some people out there that are working to change this, because honestly a world without camembert is not one I want to live in. I have done extensive research – by which I mean I have eaten my way through more vegan cheese than I would care to admit – and there are some clear winners – namely applewood smoked cheese and anything by artisanal cheesemaker Food by Sumear. I plan to take out stocks.
The point is, the market for veganism has changed, and no longer do I have to eat a portobello mushroom burger everywhere I go, or an iceberg lettuce salad. That in itself is a joy.
Doe Charles, West Sussex